Benefit-Based Promotions: How to Capture Real Value Without Giving Away the Store


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Retailers have faced a brutal reality over the past few years as consumer spending declined due to stagnant wages and deleveraging of household debt. To counteract a slow economic environment, retailers often respond with a heavy dose of aggressive promotions, training consumers to expect deals every time they shop. This produces negative results for retailers that have become reliant on a perpetual cycle of decreasingly effective promotions that put a heavy drag on margins.

In this Executive Insights, L.E.K. Consulting discusses how retailers can avoid promotional traps by using the benefit-based promotional strategy to garner higher same-store sales and more profitable and incremental sales. According to L.E.K. analysis, the use of new analytics to drive personalization and targeted promotions is the best pursuit for retailers to optimize promotional dollars, but it requires a large investment in technology and people. The alternative benefit-based promotional strategy can help retailers garner success in the interim.

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Benefit-Based Promotions: How to Capture Real Value Without Giving Away the Store

  1. 1. L E K . C O ML.E.K. Consulting / Executive Insights EXECUTIVE INSIGHTS INSIGHTS @ WORK® VOLUME XVI, ISSUE 14 Benefit-Based Promotions: How To Capture Real Value Without Giving Away The Store was written by Jon Weber, a managing director in L.E.K. Consulting’s Boston office, Dan McKone, a managing director in L.E.K. Consulting’s Boston office and Chris Randall, a principal in L.E.K. Consulting’s Boston Office. For more information, contact Benefit-Based Promotions: How To Capture Real Value Without Giving Away The Store For many retailers, the past few years have been brutal. Consumer spending has been pinched by stagnant wages, deleveraging of household debt and a slow economic recov- ery. Retailers have responded with a heavy dose of aggressive promotions, but this has trained consumers to expect great deals every time they shop. Meanwhile, the continued shift to online shopping has given consumers a constant reference point on value and conditioned them to routinely consider a much broader set of options. The result: Many retailers have become addicted to a perpetual cycle of decreasingly effective promotions that are putting a heavy drag on margins. For example, when we examined holiday promotions in recent years, we often saw retail chains cut prices by 30-50% or more. These deep discounts boosted retail sales for some, but the impact on operating profit was frequently disastrous. In our experience, three common shortcomings befall retailers’ promotions: • Annualizing. Responding to the challenge of an an- niversary promotion by replicating last year’s discounts as a default baseline—and then often cutting further. • Conditioning. Running promotions so broadly and frequently that consumers believe the ticket price isn’t real and buy only when there’s a sale. • Scatter-shotting. Absent strong internal capability to analyze what is working and what is not, many retailers punt on promotional effectiveness and go both broad and deep to drive traffic. How can retailers avoid these traps and the inevitable “race to the bottom” that accompanies them? Clearly you can’t stop promoting; after all, if you cut out deals, and your competitors continue to offer them, your cus- tomers will simply go elsewhere. Nor can you afford to wait for the promise of a fully optimized 1-to-1 promotion engine; there is simply far too much at stake in the short term. That’s where a benefit-based promotional strategy comes in. With benefit-based promotions, retailers figure out which promotions actually pay off with certain customer clusters and situations, generating truly incremental sales and profitability. Such a strategy requires an understanding of the retail category, consumer shopping habits in that category, and the competitive landscape. The strategy must be based on the simple fact that different consumers will react to different promotions on differ- ent products at different times in different ways. Rather than blindly offering deals, retailers need to consider how customers behave when they shop, and identify the promotions that will achieve the desired response. Figure 1,
  2. 2. EXECUTIVE INSIGHTS L E K . C O MINSIGHTS @ WORK® Page 2 L.E.K. Consulting / Executive Insights Volume XVI, Issue 14 EXECUTIVE INSIGHTS may prod shoppers to drive a little farther to their store, or to overcome some loyalty to a competitor. Playing the odds means that retailers also need to figure out when promotions aren’t working, and stop throwing away money by discounting products that consumers likely would have bought at full price. We have seen this be a significant source of spend recapture for clients across many consumer-facing sectors. This requires a new mindset for many retailers that have historically passed out pro- motions based on fear. Figure 2 demonstrates how a seasonally-driven retailer would use historical data an- alytics to drive its promotion- al strategy, increasing ROI by being in tune with consumer shopping behaviors. How successful can such a benefit-based promo- tional strategy be in the real world? Consider how one based on L.E.K.’s experience, highlights ­four key promotional dimensions common to many retailers and brands. The Benefit-Based Promotional Strategy With a benefit-based promotional strategy, the goal is not just higher same-store sales, but more profitable and truly incre- mental sales. As the table above articulates, consider- ing the key elements that drive consumer response is crucial. At certain times of the year, for example, consumers are more likely to shop (i.e., they’re “in the market” to buy), so discounts during those pe- riods are more likely to spur incremental sales. Retailers also may be able to use tar- geted promotions to shore up geographic areas where they are weaker than the competition. A compel- ling offer, for example, KEY DIMENSION PROMOTIONAL STRATEGY Time of year Fish when the fish are biting. • Vary offers by season to drive market share in months in which consumers have “high receptivity” and reduce promotional expenses in “low receptivity” months. • Also focus new customer activities within these high receptivity months to maximize return on investment (ROI) and increase revenues. Market strength Use discounts to offset competitive weakness. • Maximize ROI of promotions by tiering markets based on strength. • If positioning vis-à-vis competitors is weak, consider relatively higher promotional activity as deals may spur consumers to drive further or make compromises. • If positioning is strong, be relatively judicious with discounts so as not to waste promotional dollars. Product category incrementality Don’t give away the store, promote selection of your core. • Favor category-specific promotions to maximize incremental sales, rather than offering across-the-board deals. • Analyze category elasticity and trip drivers to identify where promotional dollars have been wasted across departments. Vary by objective Define what you are trying to do first, then promote to achieve that goal. • Define clear rules around when to use certain promotions to drive specific results. • Use deeper promotion to acquire new customers or reactivate existing ones; stick with narrower and less severe discounts elsewhere. • Vary the channel and breadth of promotion depending on the objective. Figure 1 Benefit-based promotional strategy: What drives consumer response Source: L.E.K. analysis High Receptivity Promotional Periods Percent of Category Sales LOWHIGH LOW HIGH LevelofDiscountRequiredtoStimulateSimilarResponse Low Receptivity Promotional Periods 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 Mar Feb Oct Jul Aug Nov Jan Apr May Sep Jun Dec Example Client, Category A Don’t fight the calendar Figure 2
  3. 3. EXECUTIVE INSIGHTS L E K . C O MINSIGHTS @ WORK® L.E.K. Consulting / Executive Insights specialty retailer increased comparable stores sales by more than 5%, while also improving gross margins, during the recent holiday season. Essentially, the retailer focused its promotional activity and eliminated discounting that didn’t drive incremen- tal sales and profit. Figure 3 shows the high-level results that L.E.K.’s client achieved versus the direct competition. While the use of new analytics to drive true personalization and targeted promotions remains the holy grail for retailers to optimize promotional dollars, it requires a substantial invest- ment in technology and people. In the meantime, retailers can’t just sit back and hope for the best. A benefit-based pro- motional strategy is a smart way to make significant progress in the interim. Savvy promotions based on the key triggers of consumer response can bring in new customers and get exist- ing ones to buy more without hurting the business’s profit- ability or the brand’s identity. L.E.K. Consulting is a registered trademark of L.E.K. Consulting LLC. All other products and brands mentioned in this document are properties of their respective owners. While L.E.K. advised the parties cited in a number of the examples, all data are sourced from publically available records. © 2014 L.E.K. Consulting LLC L.E.K. Consulting is a global management consulting firm that uses deep industry ex- pertise and analytical rigor to help clients solve their most critical business problems. Founded more than 30 years ago, L.E.K. employs more than 1,000 professionals in 22 offices across Europe, the Americas and Asia-Pacific. L.E.K. advises and supports global companies that are leaders in their industries – including the largest private and public sector organizations, private equity firms and emerging entrepreneurial businesses. L.E.K. helps business leaders consistently make better decisions, deliver improved business performance and create greater shareholder returns. For further information contact: Los Angeles 1100 Glendon Avenue 21st Floor Los Angeles, CA 90024 Telephone: 310.209.9800 Facsimile: 310.209.9125 Boston 75 State Street 19th Floor Boston, MA 02109 Telephone: 617.951.9500 Facsimile: 617.951.9392 Chicago One North Wacker Drive 39th Floor Chicago, IL 60606 Telephone: 312.913.6400 Facsimile: 312.782.4583 New York 1133 Sixth Avenue 29th Floor New York, NY 10036 Telephone: 646.652.1900 Facsimile: 212.582.8505 San Francisco 100 Pine Street Suite 2000 San Francisco, CA 94111 Telephone: 415.676.5500 Facsimile: 415.627.9071 International Offices: Bangkok Beijing Chennai London Melbourne Milan Mumbai Munich New Delhi Paris São Paulo Seoul Shanghai Singapore Sydney Tokyo Wroclaw INSIGHTS @ WORK® Sales Decline Figure 3 Margin Contraction Margin Expansion Sales Growth C OMPETITOR A Broad-based Promotions C OMPETITOR B Limited, Non- Competitive Promotions C LIENT RETAIL ER Benefit-based Promotions The payoff of a benefit-based promotional strategy